A former Pharma sales rep & his wife open a successful consignment clothing boutique following industry downsizing
Barneys Consignment Shop is in Mendham, NJ but it looks straight out of Soho, carrying labels like Prada, Chanel, Michael Kors, Tory Burch, etc. – many with the tags still on. Their ever-changing collection includes upscale women’s clothing, jewelry, handbags and shoes, some men’s accessories, and a small variety of boutique children’s attire, as well as specialty vintage pieces. The store also sells carefully chosen fixtures, furniture, and impressive chandeliers. It’s the collaboration of husband & wife team Wayne and Susan Pacconi, opening its doors earlier this year in May.
JS: What gave you the idea to open a consignment shop and why was this year the right time?
SP: I had always wanted to design clothing and own a boutique. I took sewing classes when I was a teen and had dreams of going to FIT, but my father didn’t think fashion was a viable career option. So I earned my bachelor’s degree in business and began a career in medical communications… but I continued to dream of one day still owning a boutique.
The idea was pushed to the forefront last year when Wayne’s company, AstraZeneca announced a 25% reduction of their sales force. We were suddenly at a crossroads. Does Wayne pursue another pharma sales job or is this our opportunity to open a boutique where he can use his skills in a new arena? We looked at each other and said “Well, we can currently cover our mortgage, the kids aren’t babies anymore but we’re not paying for college yet either. If there was ever a good time, this was as close to perfect as we were going to get!”
Wayne knew in November 2011 that his job would be phased out in February, so we immediately started researching our idea and looking for retail space.
The idea of a consignment shop emerged because there was very little overhead. We didn’t need to buy inventory. Our costs were contained to the storefront, store design, signage and our sales system.
JS: Did you do any due diligence before diving in?
SP: Yes. We determined that for a specified amount of time we could get by on one salary instead of what we were accustomed to. We projected our expenses and different sales scenarios. We visited a number of local consignment stores to better understand the business.
In April, we signed a one year lease for the storefront at 22 East Main Street in Mendham, NJ and started renovating it. We opened May 1st.
JS: How do you find your inventory? What sorts of pieces do you carry? What sells?
SP: We first came up with what we wanted the store to look and feel like, and that drove our choices about what we put in it. Wayne enjoys fashion too and has an eye for interior design. He visualized a space that was more like a NYC boutique than your typical notion of a consignment store.
WP: We wanted to create an elegant space to showcase one-of-a-kind finds. That means we have to be very disciplined about the inventory we take in. We carefully select each piece so we don’t overwhelm our customers with a crowded hodge podge of stuff. Every single thing in the store is desirable. Some of our favorite finds have been vintage martini cuff links, an armoire previously owned by Spanky from the Little Rascals, and some great special collection CHANEL bags.
We get most of our merchandise from local consignors, who either walk into the store or hear about us thru their friends.
Almost everything we choose sells immediately. It comes in, and sometimes it’s gone before I can snap a picture to post on our Facebook page.
JS: What was the biggest surprise about opening your own retail business?
SP: The biggest surprise for me was the cost of doing credit card business. 1-3% per transaction. It definitely eats into our consignment split! Now we know why small business owners always prefer cash.
WP: Also, the nature of retail. Whenever the store is open, one of us is there. We collectively work 7 days a week now. Retail hours are different from office hours. We’re open weekends. Every day except Monday. It’s good with the girls’ school schedule because we can open a little later in the morning, but it makes it tough to grab a vacation or spend time together on a weekend as a family before 5pm.
JS: How’s business?
SP: It’s good! We enjoy it a lot and are so glad we pursued this dream. We’re cash positive even though everyone told us to be prepared for a rough start in today’s economy. We’re now considering ways to expand our business – perhaps to online sales.
JS: What advice would you give to someone toying with the idea of opening their own business?
WP: Don’t be deterred by thoughts that owning your own business is complicated, way too hard to do, or has a low chance of success. One of the most important parts is finding something that you can be passionate about. When you’re passionate about bringing something to life, it shows!
Research and planning are essential but do not let it be the step you never move on from. It’s becoming incorporated, signing the lease and opening the door that make you a small business owner. PS – Spend time shopping for the right lease, because it will determine how long you stay in business. Location is still key- that’s one thing that never changes.
The sense of self-accomplishment and gratification you feel when you succeed are better than any paycheck with someone else’s name on the bottom! Look before you leap, but leap!
Visit Barney’s at 22 East Main Street in Mendham, NJ or on Facebook. If you go, I want to hear what you got!
If you’d like to consign items, contact the store at (973) 543-1029 or firstname.lastname@example.org